Monday, August 2, 2010

On the Portsmouth Brewery's New Menu

Since the Portsmouth Brewery started serving its new menu about a month ago, we've gotten some nice press and a lot of feedback. Though most of it has been positive, a sizable minority has expressed disappointment at the disappearance of certain favorite items, such as our Rhode Island style calamari, steak bomb sandwich, meatloaf, crab rangoon, grilled chicken breast & basil sandwich, salmon sandwich. In responding to these comments, I've found myself touching on the same points, so I thought I'd publish a variation of a letter I sent recently to a regular customer who wrote lamenting the loss of some of her favorite items. Here's my letter. Please let me know what you think.

- Peter

Good morning,

Thanks for following up with me. I've passed your comments along to our chef and his staff, as well as the rest of the management team at the Brewery.

As I'm sure you know, the Portsmouth Brewery is in its twentieth year in business. Over time, we've made numerous changes to our menu, large and small. In fact, our menu, as it's evolved to this point, bears only slight resemblance to the one we opened with back in 1991. There are a variety of reasons why we make these changes:

• An item is not selling well. (It's always tough to be the slowest antelope in the herd!)

• Something has become cost prohibitive, and we would have to charge more for it than would be reasonable. This was basically the fate of our salmon sandwich, which we lost money on every time we served it. We could have kept it at a reasonable price by substituting a cheaper variety of salmon, but we have opted instead to offer salmon as a special when we can offer the best combination of quality and value.

• An item is not logistically feasible to produce. The Brewery does four times the level of business it did in its early years, and about twice as much as when we last expanded our kitchen fourteen years ago. We are constantly faced with the challenge of putting out a greater and greater volume of food from a kitchen that can not be expanded. All this without sacrificing quality. Again, there are easy ways to put out more food - mostly by purchasing pre-prepped boil-in-bag or drop-and-fry items - but we've never gone that route.

• We need to make room for new, interesting items we wish to try out. Due to the previous reason, any new item requires an existing one to be dropped.

• Sometimes, menu items have simply lived out their lifespan and it's time for them to go. When we first opened in 1991, we served fajitas and overstuffed California-style burritos (my sister and I are both from southern California, so this was a natural for us). A few years later when we saw fajitas featured at McDonald's and burrito joints popping up everywhere, we decided it was time to move on.

• But perhaps the most important reason we make periodic changes to our menu is to remain fresh and interesting to our customers, both old and new. Operating a new restaurant is a very different proposition from running one that's two decades old. We are tasked with being both comfortably familiar and fresh and interesting at the same time - it's quite a challenge, but one that we have a lot of fun taking on.

We try not to be too sentimental when it comes to making these decisions. Some of my personal favorites have gone by the wayside over the years (including those burritos, our pizzas and a great fresh avocado & roasted turkey sandwich with homemade red pepper mayo that we used to offer). And when we do make changes, we are always bound to disappoint customers who have grown attached to items that we no longer serve. It's a difficult situation to be in, because in the hospitality business, we here to say yes, not no.

So, now that you've had a look behind our curtain, perhaps you'll take another look at our new menu and regard it differently. We're really happy with it, and the reaction thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. Yes, we've definitely heard from people who've seen a favorite item go away, but I think we still offer one of the most wide-ranging, interesting and creative selections of food around.



1 comment:

Christine said...

We haven't been in to try the new menu yet, but we are definitely open to trying it out. Soon! I've worked in the restaurant business myself, and I understand how it all works. I loved that salmon sandwich, and even though I, personally, would have been willing to pay more for it, I understand that many will not.

Keep up the great work, with both the food and the beer!